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Review: Shutter Island

BY SARAH LARSON | FEBRUARY 22, 2010 7:30 AM

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**** 1/2 out of *****

In a crowded yet quiet theater, the audience members barely moved as they held their breath, watching the engrossing Shutter Island.

Martin Scorsese, the famed director of such movies as Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and The Departed, once again shows his mastery of film. Shutter Island is both captivating and suspenseful.

The narrative, based on the 2003 novel of the same name by Dennis Lehane, follows U.S. Marshals Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) as they investigate a missing patient from an island-based hospital for the criminally insane. As the duo dives deeper into the case, it becomes apparent that more is going on than just a strange missing-person case.

What makes the movie so alluring is the way in which it gracefully mixes a detective drama with thrilling suspense and mystery. Shutter Island is more than just a thriller; at its core, it’s a character drama about a man dealing with his past.

The film, set in 1954, explores the morality issues involved in psychiatric treatments as well as questions what insanity is. Two schools of thought are presented: One consists of lobotomies and surgeries on the brain, and the other uses prescription drugs to numb patients. As the film moves, DiCaprio’s character’s own sanity is questioned as he fights to understand what is fiction and what is reality.

While not downright scary, the film is creepy and uncanny. Daniels’ upsetting and sometimes gory dream sequences contrast against his seemingly sound character by day. Through these actions, Scorcese is able to present a plot that twists and turns with intensity, rising to a high pitch which swallows the memorized and silent audience.

The setting aids the plot with a gray, eerie Massachusetts island as a backdrop for the story’s menacing suspense. The presence of a hurricane escalates the feeling of doom on the island. As the two marshals become trapped in the unsettling asylum, Daniels’ twisted character grows with the storm.

DiCaprio uses these hardships and gives a riveting performance as a man coming to terms with his wife’s death. If the film had débuted in October as it was originally scheduled to, DiCaprio could have earned an Academy Award nod for this performance. Whether questioning the asylum’s doctors or walking through bizarre and disturbing dream sequences, everything he does is excellent.

Each character in the film is intriguing and absorbing. Ruffalo gives an exceptional performance as DiCaprio’s new, inquisitive partner. Ben Kingsley also does well as the peculiar Dr. Cawley, a compassionate yet secretive man in charge of the ward.

Still, DiCaprio’s character carries the film and makes Shutter Island fascinating. His superb performance only enhances the already well-written and well-developed character whose hidden past is one of the movie’s most intriguing aspects.

If the film had been released on its original date, it could have been an Academy Award contender. This year’s nominations were nowhere near as engaging. In a award-season of blasé movies, the Scorsese-DiCaprio team shows how extraordinary and enthralling a film can be.


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